Drafting Quarterbacks - It's Complicated

We've long talked about how far this blog has come since it started, and we're proud of what we've done. There are a lot of other outstanding Vikings blogs out there as well, and I think it would be a pretty good thing to help those folks out, if possible. After all, the more quality Vikings content we have, the better, right?

So, this is an article from the folks over at Kick-Ass Blog. Kick-Ass Blog is run by Darren Campbell, who used to run the Vikings' site known as Grant's Tomb. The other contributor to the site is Pacifist Viking, who has come back to the Vikings' blogosphere after a one-year hiatus, and is definitely worth the read as well. So, I hope you enjoy this posting, and that you'll give Kick-Ass Blog a visit. - Chris

I checked the Oxford Dictionary today to find a definition for "franchise quarterback". It wasn't there.

But if it had been, I imagine the definition would have said something like "football nirvana", for when an NFL team can land a franchise signal caller, it can lead to some joyous times. Elite QBs can turn ordinary receivers into All-Pros. They can mask offensive line deficiencies. They can help average running backs become productive. They can compensate for a weak defense. They can even turn a weak team into a playoff caliber club (ask Colts owner Jim Irsay about that one).

After five years of failed experiments and Band-Aid solutions, the Minnesota Vikings tried to land their franchise quarterback last April by investing the #12 overall pick in the 2011 college draft on Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder. The hope is that Ponder develops into the kind of quarterback who can consistently play at a Pro Bowl level for the next decade.

Football fans often hear that drafting college players is a bit of a crapshoot; an inexact science. I decided to check out how inexact picking franchise quarterbacks can be. To do that I looked at the track records of quarterbacks taken in the first round of every NFL draft since 1999 - the last time the Vikings selected a quarterback that high. The purpose of the exercise was to determine what the odds are of getting that franchise QB every team covets if you draft one in the first round.

Although I went through every quarterback who was a first round pick from 1999-2011, I couldn't pass judgment on the QB class of 2011 (Ponder, Cam Newton, Jake Locker and Blaine Gabbert) nor the class of 2010 (Sam Bradford and Tim Tebow). The body of work just isn't extensive enough. Even making calls on the 2009 QB crop, which I did, is a stretch.

Anyway, I've come up with six tiers to assess how the 31 quarterbacks taken in the first round of the draft from 1999-2009 have fared. The tiers are as follows:

Tier #1 - Fran Tarkenton: The gold standard
Tier #2 - Daunte Culpepper: All-Pro level
Tier #3 - Tommy Kramer: A notch (or two) below elite status
Tier #4 - Joe Kapp: Workmanlike, but you could do better
Tier #5 - Tarvaris Jackson: Looked good in pads. Not so good in the pocket
Tier #6 - Spergon Wynn: Epic suckitude

I'd consider the first three tiers to be franchise quarterback level. They will help you far more than they will hurt you. You can win a lot of games with these guys. Tier #4 is sort of quarterback limbo. You can probably fashion a bunch of 6-10 to 8-8 records with these players, but you aren't winning any Super Bowls. The final two tiers are your busts.

What follows are the rankings by tier. Each player listed will also be accompanied by their yearly averages in the following statistics: completion percentage; passing yards, touchdowns and interceptions. Some of you will disagree with where I ranked the odd guy. So be it. I feel pretty comfortable where I have them.

Tier #1 - Fran Tarkenton (1)

* Aaron Rodgers (2005 - 24th overall - Green Bay)
7 seasons; 65.4 %; 2,480; 19TDs; 5 INTs; 2 Pro Bowls: 1 Super Bowl title

Tier #2 - Daunte Culpepper (8)

* Donovan McNabb (1999 - 2nd overall - Eagles)
13 seasons; 59 %; 2,867; 18 TDs; 9 INTs; 6 Pro Bowls

* Daunte Culpepper (1999 - 11th overall - Vikings)
11 seasons; 63 %; 2,195; 14 TDs; 10 INTs; 3 Pro Bowls

* Michael Vick (2001 - 1st overall - Falcons)
9 seasons; 56 %; 1,990; 12 TDS; 8 INTs; 579 (rushing yards); 4 TDs; 4 Pro Bowls

* Eli Manning (2004 - 1st overall - San Diego)
8 seasons; 58.4 %; 3,447; 23 TDs; 16 TDs; 2 Pro Bowls; 2 Super Bowl titles

* Philip Rivers (2004 - 4th overall - New York Giants)
8 seasons; 63.5 %; 3,035; 17 TDs; 10 INTs; 4 Pro Bowls

* Ben Roethlisberger (2004 - 11th overall - Pittsburgh)
8 seasons; 63.1 %; 3,332; 21 TDs; 13 INTs; 2 Pro Bowls; 2 Super Bowl titles

* Jay Cutler (2006 - 11th overall - Denver)
6 seasons; 61.1 %; 3,047; 20 TDs; 14 INTs; 1 Pro Bowl

* Matt Ryan (2008 - 3rd overall - Atlanta)
4 seasons; 60.9 %; 3,559; 24 TDs; 12 INTs; 1 Pro Bowl

Tier #3 - Tommy Kramer (3)

* Carson Palmer (2003 - 1st overall - Cincinnati)
8 seasons; 62.7 %; 3,180; 21 TDs; 14 INTs; 2 Pro Bowls

* Joe Flacco (2008 - 18th overall - Baltimore)
4 seasons; 60.8 %; 3,454; 20 TDs; 12 INTs

* Matt Stafford (2009 - 1st overall - Detroit)
3 seasons; 59.8 %; 2,613; 20 TDs; 12 INTs

Joe Kapp (4)

* Chad Pennington (2000 - 18th overall, Jets)
11 seasons; 66 %; 1,620; 9 TDs; 6 INTs

* Jason Campbell (2005 - 25th overall - Washington)
6 seasons; 60.8 %; 2,402; 12 TDs; 8 INTs

* Mark Sanchez (2009 - 5th overall - New York Jets)
3 seasons; 55.3 %; 3,069; 18 TDs; 17 INTs

* Josh Freeman (2009 - 17th overall - Tampa Bay)
3 seasons; 60.5 %; 2,966; 17 TDs; 15 INTs

Tarvaris Jackson (10)

* Tim Couch (1999 - 1st overall - Browns)
5 seasons; 59.8 %; 2,226; 13 TDs; 13 INTs

* Cade McNown (1999 - 12th overall - Bears)
2 seasons; 54.6 %; 1,555; 8 TDs; 10 INTs

* David Carr (2002 - 1st overall - Texans)
10 seasons; 59.7 %; 1,433; 7 TDS; 7 INTs

* Joey Harrington (2002 - 3rd overall - Lions)
6 seasons; 56.1 %; 2,448; 13 TDs; 14 INTs

* Byron Leftwich (2003 - 7th overall - Jacksonville)
9 seasons; 58.3 %; 1,140; 6 TDs; 5 INTs

* Kyle Boller (2003 - 19th overall - Baltimore)
8 seasons; 56.7 %; 1,116; 6 TDs; 7 INTs

* Rex Grossman (2003 - 22nd overall - Chicago)
9 seasons; 55.2 %; 1,136; 6 TDs; 7 INTs

* J.P. Losman (2004 - 22nd overall - Buffalo)
7 seasons; 59.2 %; 895; 5 TDs; 5 INTs

* Alex Smith (2005 - 1st overall - San Francisco)
6 seasons; 58 %; 2,090; 11 TDs; 10 INTs

* Vince Young (2006 - 3rd overall - Tennessee)
6 seasons; 57.9; 1,494; 8 TDs; 9 INTs; 2 Pro Bowls

Spergon Wynn (5)

* Akili Smith (1999 - 3rd overall - Bengals)
4 seasons; 46.6 %; 553; 1 TD; 3 INT

* Patrick Ramsey (2001- 32nd overall - Washington)
7 seasons; 56 %; 847; 5 TDs; 4 INTs

* Matt Leinart (2006 - 10th overall - Arizona)
5 seasons; 57.6 %; 790; 3 TDs; 4 INTs

* JaMarcus Russell (2007 - 1st overall - Oakland)
3 seasons; 52.1 %; 1,361; 6 TDs; 8 INTs

* Brady Quinn (2007 - 22nd overall - Cleveland)
4 seasons; 52.1 %; 475; 3 TDs; 2 INTs

So what does all this tell us? Well, there have been a lot of bad quarterbacks picked in the first round during the 1999-2009 period. Almost half (48 %) of the QBs chosen qualify as busts in my book. And if you add in the four middling guys in the Joe Kapp tier, 61 % of the QBs didn't, or haven't, turned out to be long-term solutions for any NFL team.

Of course, you've probably done the math by now and realized that by my rankings, 39 % of those quarterbacks did turn into franchise signal callers. There are a number of factors at play for why highly-drafted quarterbacks either succeed or fail in the NFL - the quality of coaching they get; the talent surrounding them and playing in a system that suits their skill set - but any way you slice it, 39 % is not a great success rate. It shows just how tricky and difficult it is to find the right guy.

Is Ponder one of those guys? His body of work during his rookie season, where he started off strong but regressed badly, certainly doesn't have Viking fans thinking he's headed to the Hall of Fame. But there is also a lot to like about Ponder - his work ethic, his mobility, and his surprising arm strength. He's got another two seasons, maybe three, to prove he is a star. Still, the stats from the past decade show there's only about a 40 % chance Ponder will pan out.

The other side of the coin is that if the Vikings hadn't taken a shot at a quarterback in the first round, the odds of them landing an elite player are stacked heavily against them.

I counted 111 quarterbacks that were taken between rounds #2 and #7 during the 1999-2009 period. How many of them turned into studs? The answer is three Tom Brady (2000- 6th round), Drew Brees (2001 - 2nd round) and Matt Schaub (2004 - 3rd round). That's a 2.7 % chance of landing a franchise quarterback beyond round #1 in the NFL draft. And you thought 39 % was a poor percentage.

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